The Boxtrolls is an innocent, fun, and utterly charming animated feature that makes great use of the traditions of stop motion animation. Following a suitably grotesque, gothic plot in a Gormenghast-like town, the film will warm the heart of even the blackest Boxtroll-catcher.
Reviewed by Drew Ninnis.
Director: Graham Annable, Anthony Stacchi
Screenplay: Irena Brignull, Adam Pava. Based on the novel by Alan Snow.
Runtime: 96 minutes.
Cast: Ben Kingsley, Jared Harris, Nick Frost, Isaac Hempstead Wright.
Trailer: Hehehe. Cheesebridge.
Plot: Egg is an orphaned boy, raised underground by a group of ingenious, trash-collecting creatures call the Boxtrolls. Never having experienced life above ground, he is startled to discover that the lovable Boxtrolls are being hunted by the ambitious Archibald Snatcher, on the authorisation of the incompetent and cheese-obsessed Lord Portley-Rind. Luckily, Portley-Rind’s brave daughter Winnie is on hand to get to the bottom of Snatcher’s mysterious plans for the Boxtrolls, and in the process foil them.
Review: The Boxtrolls will absolutely charm the pants off you, like a cute combination of The Nightmare Before Christmas meets Wallance & Gromit. While it maintains the gothic sensibilities of the former, with a dash of British eccentricity, the spirit of the tale and its goodheartedness is inspired firmly by the latter. While stop motion animated features are becoming rarer – due to their time intensive nature, and the popularity of CGI’ed Pixar features and the like – no other medium would do quite as well at capturing the uniqueness and strangeness of the characters, and their adorable expressions. By the close of the film, the entirely natural and innocent Boxtrolls will have won you over; a danger for parents, who will have to fend off questions of how the family can acquire one of their own.
The setting for the tale is a Gormentghast-like Victorian-gothic town, set atop a hill and crowding itself full of Dickensian squalor. Ruling majestically, lazily, and with an unhealthy obsession with cheese, are the ‘white hats,’ aristocrats headed up by Lord Portley-Rind (Jared Harris). The town is thrown into disorder by the revelation that creatures called Boxtrolls exist; clothed only in a box, and hiding among them, they come out at night to steal anything that isn’t nailed down and quite a few things that are. Out of the trash they collect, they build marvellous and pointless machines in a lair underground, experimenting with all sorts of bits and pieces. When a young baby goes missing, and a local inventor is suspected to be murdered, the cunning Archibald Snatcher (Ben Kingsley) seizes the perfect opportunity to create fear in the hearts of citizens and embark on a campaign to eliminate all of the Boxtrolls. This comes with the indolent promise from Lord Portly-Rind that should he be successful, Snatcher will be admitted into the governing ‘whitehats.’
Luckily, the Boxtrolls have Egg (Isaac Hempstead Wright) on their side – a young boy raised from birth by the boxtrolls, and the missing son of the inventor. Venturing to the surface in disguise, he is amazed to discover that his beloved Boxtrolls are villainised as bloodthirsty monsters; vowing to do what he can for his adopted family, and discovering that all is not as it seems with Archibald Snatcher. He is helped by Lord Portly-Rind’s neglected daughter, Winnie (Elle Fanning – obviously from a family where every child must earn their keep, or be thrown out on the streets, like a Hollywood-Fagan enterprise), and once the two set their mind to it a glorious caper is unleashed as they pit their brains against the brawn of Snatcher and his henchmen (a delightful Nick Frost, Richard Ayoade, and Tracy Morgan). 'Do you think these Bboxtrolls really understand the duality of good and evil?' Ayode asks, as the most conscientious henchman in film history.
The film is perfectly put together, and shows the childlike sensitivity of an early Tim Burton – as the Boxtrolls rocket into their underground home on a demented UPS Centre delivery system, complete with fairy lights, junk inventions, and baroque decorations. The opening scenes will melt your heart, with the stop motion animation being particularly adept at capturing every expression on baby Egg’s face, and his joy at being amongst the Boxtrolls. There’s a sad, beautiful montage of Egg growing up as the number of Boxtrolls dwindle and dwindle; appropriately enough, they sleep in an organised stack almost reaching the roof, with little Egg cradled protectively at the top.
What is most interesting about these children’s entertainments are the ways in which the adult’s world is shown as simultaneously confusing, grotesque, and yet a source of unexpected laughter that more often than not gets you in to trouble. One detects that the adults involved in production delight at an opportunity to laugh at their own seriousness, and depict the world of bus schedules and meetings and mortgage repayments in the most ridiculous terms possible. That’s possibly why such a gothic, faux-Dickensian lens works so well for these productions; it elevates everything to a level of Victorian, Edwardian silliness and makes them burst with overstuffed decoration until we can’t help but be charmed by the simplicity of the humour. Ben Kingsley’s performance, in particular, walks the delicate line of being threatening and full of portent while still being comfortably ridiculous – it is almost as if his character, Snatcher, is the same rogue who goes on to buy the restaurant in Peter Greenaway’s The Cook the Thief His Wife & Her Lover. Thankfully here the worst thing Archibald Snatcher is forced to eat is some cheese, which he is highly allergic to.
The Boxtrolls is fun for all ages; and passes that essential parental test of being enjoyable and fun, even if you have to rewatch it a few thousand times with your enraptured children.
Rating: Three and a half stars.